Feast upon the Word Blog

A blog focused on LDS scriptures and teaching

RS/MP Chapter 21: Proclaiming the Gospel to the World (Joseph Fielding Smith Manual)

Posted by Robert C. on November 7, 2014

The lesson can be found online here.

From the life

Question: What setbacks and disappointments have you faced when trying to do what’s right? In the face of such setbacks, how did you keep going? How do you avoid being overcome with frustration or despair?

The manual states:

In his two years of service, “[Elder Smith] did not make one convert, did not have opportunity to perform one baptism, although he did confirm one convert.” Unable to see many results of his labors, he found comfort in knowing that he was doing the Lord’s will and that he was helping prepare people who might receive the gospel later in their lives.

I like the more specific example about the hospital that is related in this section. It takes a particular form of mental and emotional effort to focus attention on the positive things in life and to be truly grateful and hopeful about small victories. The happy ending of success that Elder Smith witnessed 70 years later is a good reminder that hope can keep us going—even when things seem hopeless—in ways that can yield miraculous fruits.

As a teenager in seminary, I remember rolling my eyes sometimes when my corny seminary teacher would repeatedly say (with that goofy grin of his, I remember thinking) that “your attitude determines your altitude.” Twenty-five years later, I think I’m only finally overcoming my peurile coolness that precluded me from appreciating the profundity of this statement. Accentuating the positive, as another cliche expresses the idea, comes more naturally to some people (especially those less prone to the kind of cynicism than me, especially as a teenager), but it is both a gift that should be appreciated and a skill that can be cultivated.

1. We desire that all people receive the restored gospel

The 5th paragraph (or so) of this section reads:

The gospel is for all people and the Lord expects those who receive it to live its truths and to offer them to those of their own nation and tongue.

How can the restored gospel help people? More specifically, how can the Gospel benefit some of your specific friends or neighbors? What ways can you think of to help them recognize the possible blessings of the restored Gospel in their lives?

My own feeling and experience here is that we should practice having more meaningful conversations with our friends and neighbors. This is something we should practice doing with our own family members and Church friends also—after all, life is short and we often spend our time thinking about rather unspiritual, non-Gospel-related topics, and we would do better to think more about “the solemnities of eternity” (D&C 43:34). If we are authentic in the way that we strive to talk about more spiritually related things with our families, friends, and neighbors, we will be more attuned to the ways that spiritual needs manifest themselves in our own lives and in the lives of our friends and neighbors. We will see others struggle with feelings of loneliness, despair, or frustration, and how they yearn to have more love, hope, or joy in their lives—and we can better share with them the ways that interaction with our wards on a weekly basis helps buoy us up, or how contemplating spiritual values during prayer, meditation, or scripture study helps give us more joy, hope, or resolve in our lives to be the kind of parent, spouse, friend, or neighbor that we aspire to be. And, as we do this, we will learn how we can better share the gospel in “their own . . . language.” Finding the right language to share the Gospel is, in my experience, one of the greatest challenges to being a good member missionary.

2. Using our means and influence to share the gospel

In the 5th paragraph, we read:

. . . I hope and pray we shall live and set examples in righteousness to all men that none may stumble, that none may falter, that none may turn from the path of righteousness, due to anything that we may do or say.

How does our failure to set an example cause non-members to stumble, falter, or “turn from the path of righteousness?

As is probably obvious from my comment in the previous section, I’m a big fan of linking our missionary efforts to our own efforts to live the gospel more faithfully. I think this makes us better member missionaries because it makes spiritual conversations more natural and less awkward. If we aren’t constantly thinking about our spiritual lives, then trying to start a spiritual conversation with our friends will feel awkward. But if we are truly living the gospel in an exemplary way, then talking about deeper, spiritual values with our friends will be a natural expression of who we are. And if we aren’t living this way, then our friends’ failure to become interested in the gospel is partly our own fault—at least that’s what I understand Pres. Smith to be effectively saying here.

3. The Church needs missionaries

The final 2 paragraphs of this section read:

We invite members of the Church to assist financially in sustaining the missionary cause and to contribute liberally of their means for the spread of the gospel.

We commend those who are serving so valiantly in the great missionary cause. Joseph Smith said: “After all that has been said, the greatest and most important duty is to preach the gospel.”

How do our financial sacrifices for missionary work help us in recognizing and fulfilling our “greatest and most important duty . . . to preach the gospel”?

I am lucky to have cajoled a return-missionary sister to agree to marry me. Oftentimes, we daydream or even joke about the future prospect of going on a mission together. Doing so helps keep everything else in perspective—the daily grind of raising kids, sometimes stepping on each others’ toes (i.e., getting on each others’ nerves), and grappling with other financial struggles and priorities.

4. Preaching scripturally, simply, and spiritually

The 3rd paragraph of this section reads:

As agents of the Lord we are not called or authorized to teach the philosophies of the world or the speculative theories of our scientific age. Our mission is to preach the doctrines of salvation in plainness and simplicity as they are revealed and recorded in the scriptures.

How can we better prepare ourselves and our youth to be better missionaries?

I love this focus on the scriptures. I think diligent scripture study is the single most important way to prepare ourselves to be both full-time missinoaries and to be member missionaries. And I think diligent scripture study—including careful pondering of the scriptures—is the only way to disentangle the simple doctrines of salvation from the philosophies of the world that we tend to use in interpreting the scriptures. We need to practice reading the scriptures on their own terms rather than bending/wresting the scriptures to conform to our own tendencies to proof text the scriptures in ways that aren’t really faithful to the scriptures themselves.

5. The gospel is the sole hope of the world

From the 2nd paragraph of this section:

Peace will come, of course, through righteousness, through justice, through the mercy of God, through the power which he will grant unto us by which our hearts will be touched and we will have love one for another.

What I like about this particular quote is that it is written in a way that is very conducive to conversations with our friends and neighbors. That is, even for people who aren’t religious, the ideas of justice, mercy, and love are universally recognized. I take these values to comprise the core essence of the gospel (as referred to in the previous section), and these are values that we ought to be constantly thinking and talking about, with all of our family members, friends, and neighbors—whether they are Mormon or not.

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